To the Last Man: A Novel of the First World War

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Overview

Jeff Shaara has enthralled readers with his New York Times bestselling novels set during the Civil War and the American Revolution. Now the acclaimed author turns to World War I, bringing to life the sweeping, emotional story of the war that devastated a generation and established America as a world power.

Spring 1916: the horror of a stalemate on Europe?s western front. France and Great Britain are on one side of the barbed wire, a fierce German army is on the other. Shaara ...

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Overview

Jeff Shaara has enthralled readers with his New York Times bestselling novels set during the Civil War and the American Revolution. Now the acclaimed author turns to World War I, bringing to life the sweeping, emotional story of the war that devastated a generation and established America as a world power.

Spring 1916: the horror of a stalemate on Europe’s western front. France and Great Britain are on one side of the barbed wire, a fierce German army is on the other. Shaara opens the window onto the otherworldly tableau of trench warfare as seen through the eyes of a typical British soldier who experiences the bizarre and the horrible–a “Tommy” whose innocent youth is cast into the hell of a terrifying war.

In the skies, meanwhile, technology has provided a devastating new tool, the aeroplane, and with it a different kind of hero emerges–the flying ace. Soaring high above the chaos on the ground, these solitary knights duel in the splendor and terror of the skies, their courage and steel tested with every flight.

As the conflict stretches into its third year, a neutral America is goaded into war, its reluctant president, Woodrow Wilson, finally accepting the repeated challenges to his stance of nonalignment. Yet the Americans are woefully unprepared and ill equipped to enter a war that has become worldwide in scope. The responsibility is placed on the shoulders of General John “Blackjack” Pershing, and by mid-1917 the first wave of the American Expeditionary Force arrives in Europe. Encouraged by the bold spirit and strength of the untested Americans, the world waits to see if the tide of war can finally be turned.

From Blackjack Pershing to the Marine in the trenches, from the Red Baron to the American pilots of the Lafayette Escadrille, To the Last Man is written with the moving vividness and accuracy that characterizes all of Shaara’s work. This spellbinding new novel carries readers–the way only Shaara can–to the heart of one of the greatest conflicts in human history, and puts them face-to-face with the characters who made a lasting impact on the world.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
In novel after novel, Jeffrey M. Shaara re-creates the visceral experience of war. Whether writing about the Revolutionary War, the Mexican War, or the War Between the States, he conveys the nervous anticipation and sudden horror of actual combat. In To the Last Man, he presents the "Great War" through the frightened eyes of a common British soldier.
From the Publisher
Praise for To the Last Man

“A gripping account of World War I–from tactics to strategy. The reader feels the horror of the trenches in France and is drawn into the maneuvering of political and military leaders on both sides of the battle. Jeff Shaara shows the dominance of the U.S. military in the context of coalition warfare–as relevant today as it was in 1918.”
–GENERAL TOMMY R. FRANKS

“A sweeping, searching look at World War I. Jeff Shaara’s novel rings with authenticity, from the feelings of frontline soldiers to the challenges of high-level command.”
–GENERAL WESLEY CLARK

“Jeff Shaara has again demonstrated that rarest of writing gifts, making literature read like history and history read like literature. He has now shone that talent on another era as he brings World War I to pulsating life.”
–JOSEPH E. PERSICO, author of Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour

“The best novel about the Great War since Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, which it greatly surpasses in depth, scope, and intensity. . . . This account of how the war was really fought will be a real eye opener for anyone interested in historical fiction or modern history.”
–JOHN MOSIER, author of The Myth of the Great War

“A riveting masterpiece revolving around the ghastly conflict that still profoundly defines the world we live in. With To the Last Man, Shaara cements his reputation as a war writer of Tolstoyan or Homeric dimensions.”
–STEVE FORBES

“Jeff Shaara’s To the Last Man lets you live WWI in the air, in the mud, and in the councils of government in a way that makes you understand how the participants experienced it. Von Richtofen, Lufbery, Ludendorff, and Pershing come alive.”
–MAJOR GENERAL JOHN S. GRINALDS, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.),
President, The Citadel

Publishers Weekly
Moving on from the American Revolution and the Civil War, Shaara (The Glorious Cause, etc.) delivers an epic account of the American experience in WWI. As usual, he narrates from the perspective of actual historical figures, moving from the complexity of high-level politics and diplomacy to the romance of the air fight and the horrors of trench warfare. Gen. John J. "Black Jack" Pershing commands all American forces in France in 1917-1918 and must prepare his army for a new kind of war while resisting French and British efforts to absorb his troops into their depleted, worn-out units. Two aviators, American Raoul Lufbery and German Manfred von Richthofen (the Red Baron) fly primitive aircraft in an air war that introduces new ways to die. And Pvt. Roscoe Temple, U.S. Marine Corps, fights with rifle and bayonet in the mud and blood of Belleau Wood and the Argonne Forest. These men and a supporting cast of other real-life characters provide a gruesomely graphic portrayal of the brutality and folly of total war. Shaara's storytelling is occasionally mechanical-he has yet to rise to the Pulitzer Prize-winning level of his father, Michael Shaara (The Killer Angels, etc.)-but his descriptions of individual combat in the air and the mass slaughter on the ground are stark, vivid and gripping. He also offers compelling portraits of the politicians and generals whose strategies and decisions killed millions and left Europe a discontented wasteland. (Nov.) Forecast: Numbers-wise, this should match Shaara's previous efforts, helped along by a 12-city author tour and vigorous promotion. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This epic story of America's involvement in World War I differs slightly from Shaara's previous works, which covered the American Revolution, the Mexican War, and the Civil War, as it involves mostly unknown people. How Marine Pvt. Roscoe Temple dealt with the grinding horror of trench warfare and pilot Raoul Lufbury's involvement in the evolution of air war are indeed gripping sagas. But historical figures pop up as well. Shaara ably chronicles the difficulties of Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing, who had to fight both the Germans and unbending bureaucracies in Washington, DC, as well as his "Allies," who wanted to dismember the U.S. Army and parcel it out as replacements for their own use. Nor are the Germans ignored; Manfred von Richtofen, the Red Baron, is sympathetically portrayed. World War I was murder on an awesome scale, and its impact lives on today. Sadly, it is either minimally understood or totally forgotten-something this book may help correct. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 7/04.]-Robert Conroy, Warren, MI Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Military novelist turns to WWI and fits its sprawling destruction into his usual flat template. After two Civil War sequels to his late father's The Killer Angels and a pair of American Revolution novels, Shaara (The Glorious Cause, 2002, etc.) leaps to the 20th century, and, true to form, presents a cast of characters chosen for their ability to be in exciting places at exciting times, not to mention a tendency to declaim at some length about the epic struggle they're undertaking. Of the four main players, though, only one, American private Roscoe Temple, is involved in the trench warfare that's the hallmark of WWI. Most of the story's turgid first half is taken up by the at-a-distance conflict between Lafayette Escadrille ace Raoul Lufbery and Germany's Baron von Richthofen, something that could have been thrilling at a third the length but here seems only to mark time until 1917, when American ground forces finally join the fray. At that point, the fourth character, American Expeditionary Force commander General Pershing, comes on stage, the better to expound at length to himself (in interior monologues) and to subordinates (like a young General Patton) about strategy. Beyond some canned textbook tidbits, there's not much in the way of historical analysis here-unlike his father Michael, Jeff has little knack for rendering a historical period's mindset or the inner forces that drive its people-the better to churn out more square-jawed action for the armchair general set, who will likely snap this one up as well. A reader gets no sense of the generation-destroying despair that this war's vast and mechanized slaughter unleashed. Instead, there's only a disturbingly cozy regurgitation ofmilitary historical cliches leading up to the glorious moment when America saves the day (again). Shaara's admittedly impressive command of the details serves less to illuminate a titanic struggle than to keep readers comfortably at a distance. First printing of 200,000
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345461360
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/30/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 672
  • Sales rank: 149,285
  • Product dimensions: 5.19 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 1.14 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeff Shaara is the New York Times bestselling author of A Chain of Thunder, A Blaze of Glory, The Final Storm, No Less Than Victory, The Steel Wave, The Rising Tide, To the Last Man, The Glorious Cause, Rise to Rebellion, and Gone for Soldiers, as well as Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure—two novels that complete the Civil War trilogy that began with his father’s Pulitzer Prize–winning classic, The Killer Angels. Shaara was born into a family of Italian immigrants in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He grew up in Tallahassee, Florida, and graduated from Florida State University. He lives again in Tallahassee.

Good To Know

Shaara didn't begin writing until he was 42 years old. In our interview, he explains, "My father had been the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Killer Angels, and died never fulfilled, nor successful as an author. I had no inclination to pursue writing at all, but was inspired by the suggestion of filmmaker Ron Maxwell, who suggested I continue the Civil War story my father had begun."

For 24 years, Shaara was a dealer in rare coins and precious metals. "The polar opposite career choice and lifestyle of an author," Shaara admits. "My criminology degree was inspired by a serious drive to find fulfillment as a wildlife officer (a game warden). With my coin business thriving, I never pursued the career."

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    1. Hometown:
      Kalispell, Montana
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 21, 1952
    2. Place of Birth:
      New Brunswick, New Jersey
    1. Education:
      B.S. in Criminology, Florida State University, 1974
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

1. THE REPLACEMENT

The British Lines, Near Ypres,
Western Belgium–Autumn 1915

The darkness was complete, a slow march into a black, wet hell. He was the last man in the short column, one part of a line of twenty men, guided by the low sounds in front of him, soft thumps, boots on the sagging duckboards. There were voices, hard whispers, and, close to him, a hissing growl from the sergeant: “Keep together, you bloody laggards! No stopping!”

No one answered, no protests. Each man held himself tightly inside, the words of the sergeant swept aside by the voices in their own minds, a tight screaming fear, the only response they could have to this march into the black unknown.

They had come as so many had come, crossing the Channel on small steamers, filing through the chaos of the seaports, and after a few days, they had boarded the trains. There was singing, bands playing along the way, the raucous enthusiasm of young recruits. They had stared curiously at the French and Belgian countryside, returning the smiles of the people who greeted them at every stop, and few noticed that as the trains moved farther inland, closer to the vast desolation of the Western Front, the villagers were quieter, the faces more grim. Then the trains stopped, and the men were ordered out onto roads that had seen too much use, repaired and repaired again. They would march now only at night, hidden from the eyes in the air, the aeroplanes that sought out targets for German artillery. If the roads were bad, the small trails and pathways were worse, men stumbling in tight files, moving closer still to the front. The fire in the recruits was dampened now, by the weather, the ever-present mud, the soggy lowlands of Flanders. Then came the first sounds, low rumbles, louder as they marched forward. Even in the darkness, both sides threw a nightly artillery barrage at the other, some firing blind, some relying on the memory of the daytime, a brief glimpse of movement on the road, convoys of trucks and horse-drawn carts. Some had the range, knew every foot of the road that stretched out behind the enemy’s lines. Throughout the night, the targets might be unseen, but they were there, and every man at every big gun knew that in the darkness, each road, each small path might be hiding great long lines of men, new recruits, the replacements who marched quietly to the front.

His guts were a twisted knot, his arms pulled to his sides, one hand tightly curled around his rifle, his eyes straining at the unseen man in front of him. The soft wood beneath him was bouncing now, sagging low, and his knees buckled, trying to match the rhythm of the footing. There were more soft sounds, splashes, the duckboards spread across some chasm of black water. His mind tried to focus, one foot in front of the other, keeping his boots on the narrow wooden boards. He imagined a great pond, inky and deep, the duckboards some kind of bridge, but the image was not complete, his mind shouting at him, to the front, focus to the front. The man in front of him made a low grunt, water splashing, the man stepping hard, trying to catch himself.

“Bloody hell!”

He stumbled as well, his boots down in the water, the duckboards sagging too low, and he felt the man suddenly beneath him. He fought for his balance, falling now, one hand pushing down hard on the man’s back.

“Get off me, you bloody bastard!”

“Shut up, Greenie! On your feet!” It was the sergeant again, and rough hands grabbed his arm, jerking him upright. Beneath him, the other man pulled himself to his feet, both of them gripped hard by the sergeant.

“Stay awake! Keep moving!”

He wanted to whisper something to the man in front, an apology, but the march was on again, the rhythm of his boots blending with the others, soft sounds of water and wood. He felt the wetness in his socks now, the chill of the water adding to the cold hard stone in his chest.

The replacements had been called Greenies from their first moment on the march, green troops, sent forward to rebuild the front-line units, fill the gaping holes in the British regiments. Their training had been rapid, some said far too rapid, a nation scrambling to find new soldiers, more soldiers than anyone had thought they would need. They had been parceled out into small squads by a system none of them understood, led by unfamiliar sergeants, hard, angry men who had done this work before, the men who knew the trails, who could find their way in the dark.

He had joined with many of his friends from the village, a small farming town near the Scottish border. No one had thought the army would be away from home through Christmas, but the newspapers spoke of great battles, a new horror for the world, words and places that seemed foreign and fantastic. In the village, there had been talk of young men who would not come home, strangers mostly, sons of farmers barely known, word of families in mourning. His friends spoke of the adventure of it all, that if any of them missed it, or worse, avoided it, they would be called shirkers, traitors to the king. No matter the accounts in the newspapers, a massive and bloody war that had swallowed the whole of Europe, few who lived in the small village could resist the call, to march in song and parade to join a war the likes of which Britain had not seen since Napoleon.

He tried to adjust his massive backpack, the darkness broken by a small clink of metal, his canteen rattling against the trenching tool that hung down the side of his pack. He had become used to the weight, the clumsy mass just part of the rhythm of the march, bouncing with him on the duckboards.

The ground beneath him was hard now, the wood not moving, no water, and the boots were louder, echoes in the darkness. He heard voices to one side, a group of men, still unseen, and the voices hushed as they passed. He stared through the darkness, wondering, officers perhaps, speaking of plans and tactics. He glanced up, no stars, the night still thick and black. A soft breeze swept past him, a wave of sharp odor. He hunched his shoulders, fought off the smell, but it was all through him, burning his nose, then harder still, sharp and sickening. The man in front of him made a choking sound, others as well, hard coughs, curses.

“Keep moving! That’s just the roses, you bloody greenies! Plenty more to come!”

The smell was settling dull in his mind, his brain numbing to it. The breeze seemed to stop, but the smells were still there, all around him, and the man in front of him said, “A horse. A bloody horse!”

He moved past the shape, could hear the hard buzz of flies, was grateful now for the dark. He squinted his eyes, fought through the worst of the smell, stared down for a long while. The march continued, more hard odor, different, unseen decay, and he focused on his footsteps, tried not to think of what lay rotting in the deep mud around him. He could see the faint outline of his boots, the motion steady, constant, realized he could see. He looked ahead of him, could see a shape, the man in front of him outlined in a dark gray mist. He glanced to the side, more shapes, low hulks, movement. The duckboards began to sag again, more splashes, and he looked down, each step pushing the water out in low ripples. He stared ahead, past the shadow of the man, tried to see beyond, to see where they were going, what the land looked like. The sergeant moved past him now, another hard whisper.

“The first trench line is just ahead. We’ll be at the guard post in a minute. Step down easy. We’re close. No talking. None! Old Fritz is just out there a ways!”

He could hear something new, a slight quiver in the sergeant’s voice. There was none of the profane anger, the mindless screaming at men who had done nothing wrong. He thought of the word, close. How close? Close enough that the sergeant is afraid? He felt his legs turning cold, the hard chill in his chest spreading. There was another low voice, unfamiliar, the words barely reaching him. He could see another man, a gray shape, an officer, speaking in low tones to the sergeant, the man’s words finding him through the heavy mist.

“Sergeant Cower . . . you’re late . . . daylight . . . heads low.”

Behind the two men there was another low, fat hulk. But the soft dawn was spreading, and he could see a shape, a fat round barrel. His heart jumped, hard tightness–of course, a cannon. A big one. The carriage was hidden, buried in the wet muddy ground, the barrel pointing out in the direction of the march. The sergeant was moving toward them again, waving his arm, a downward motion, words coming now, but there was a new sound, a hard whistle, ripping the air above them. The ground in front of him erupted, a mass of earth and men, and he felt himself pushed back, rolling down, his face hitting the mud, his backpack lurching up over his shoulders. There was another great scream, another shell landing a few yards to his left, the ground under him rising up in one great gasp, then settling back down. More dirt fell on him, heavy, a sharp punch into his backpack, nearly rolling him over. He gripped the ground, his hands clawing into the mud, but the sounds kept rolling over him, thunderous bursts, the ground still bouncing beneath him. He tried to breathe, blew a sharp breath out, his face buried in water, tried to raise his head, another great blast, lifting him up, dropping him again hard in the mud. He gasped for air, turned his face to the side, saw only smoke, no men, no great gun. He forced a breath, his throat seared by the heat. He looked for the sergeant, tried to shout, something, not words, fought for air, another scream above him, another great blast behind him, other sounds now, more screams. Men. The dirt settled on him again, and he thought of the sergeant, the man’s words, trench line, close. He raised his head up, saw motion, a man running, then another blast, the man disappearing, swept away. He tried to stand, the backpack nearly falling over his head, the weight pulling him over. He tried to run, his legs useless, soft jelly, felt a hand now, a hard grip under his arm.

“Let’s go! Move!”

The hand released him, and he reached down for his rifle, saw only water, the voice again.

“Move!”

The man was running out ahead, and he followed, pumped his legs through the churned-up mud, the backpack bouncing wildly. He saw the man drop down, a large round hole, more black water, and he followed, stumbled down, splashed hard, water up to his waist.

“Down!”

He rolled to one side, the backpack sinking beneath him, could sit now, water to his chest, the muddy rim of the hole above him, protection. The shells still came over them, but fell farther back now, the impact jarring him in hard rumbles. He wiped at his eyes, but the mud on his hands made it worse, and he blew hard through his nose, dislodging mud and water. His hands were empty, a new burst of fear, so many days of drill, of screaming sergeants, the routine pounded hard into every man, the punishment. Never lose your rifle. . . .

“My rifle . . . I dropped it! I have to go back. . . .”

The hand clamped hard on his shoulder again, and he saw the face of the sergeant.

“Stay put! There’s more rifles to be found. You wounded?”

The question confused him, and he looked down, saw only water, said, “I don’t know. I don’t know.”

“You better check, Greenie. But keep down.”

He moved his hands along his sides, was suddenly terrified of what he would find. He felt for his legs, his hands probing slowly beneath the dark water, said, “I don’t know. It doesn’t hurt.”

The sergeant did not laugh, said, “Roll over. Let me have a look. You could bloody well have a hole somewhere. There’s no pain, sometimes. Just a piece . . . goes missing.”

He turned, the backpack rising up beneath him. Now there was a short laugh, and the sergeant said, “No, don’t appear you been hit. But the quartermaster’s gonna be mighty ticked. You let Fritz blow the hell out of your pack.”

He slid the pack off, moved it around, saw shreds of cloth, the contents, his clothes, food rations, ripped to small bits of cloth and metal. He stared at the useless mass, pushed it away from him, watched it disappear into the water.

“Say a prayer, Greenie. Probably saved your neck.”

He probed again, his hands feeling his chest, stomach, and the sergeant was serious now.

“Naw, Greenie, you’re fine. If I hadn’t gotten you into this shell hole, you might have joined your mates. Direct hit . . .” The sergeant paused, looked up into the thick gray sky. “Shelling’s stopped. For now. You best get moving. Trenches should be ahead, if there’s still anything left. Chances are, those boys fared better than you greenies. Take a look. See if anyone’s moving.”

He slid to one side of the shell hole, adjusted his helmet, eased his head up slowly, and the sergeant said, “Go on, there’s nothing to fear now. Fritz can’t see you back this far. If they start shelling again, you know where to find me.”

He glanced up out of the hole, saw low drifting smoke, mounds of dirt, duckboards scattered, splintered. “I don’t see anything.” He turned, saw the sergeant staring at him, saw the man shivering, the water around him moving in low ripples.

“You best go on. They’re waiting for the greenies up ahead. You’ll see the trenches, a hole bigger’n this one, pile of sandbags. Tell the guards you’re a replacement for B Company. They’ll know where to put you.” He paused, took a long breath, spit something out into the black water. “Double-time it, though. Fritz could start his guns again.”

“I don’t know the way. I’ll wait for the others. You have to lead the way!”

He felt a small cold panic rising, stared at the sergeant, who said, “Go! I’ll be staying here.”

“But the others!”

He was angry now, furious at this man, this bully, the big man with the temper and the hard hands, quick to punish, quick in his abuse of the replacements. From the beginning of the march, the sergeant had been on them, cursing them, finding fault with every step. He moved through the water, closer to the sergeant, said, “Damn you! You cannot just order me. . . . I cannot just go alone! We must find the others!”

The sergeant closed his eyes for a moment, said softly, “Direct hit. The first shell . . . there are no others.”

“You’re mad! Twenty men!”

He scrambled to the edge of the shell hole, eased his head up, searched the dull gray. His heart was pounding again, the cold returning. He climbed up farther, pulled himself out of the hole, crawled slowly away. The smoke was mostly gone, the air now thick with wet mist, a light rain beginning to fall. He paused, listened, tried to hear voices, heard only the faint hiss of the rain. He glanced beyond the shell hole, toward the front lines, the place where the trenches were supposed to be. He raised his head up farther, felt suddenly naked, no rifle, nothing in his hands, no heavy mass on his back. He felt light, like an animal, stood up slowly, bent low, began to move back, followed the shattered trail of the duckboards. He could see the muddy ground broken into round patches of water, shell holes in every direction. He crouched low, saw a rifle, thought, mine . . . but the butt was missing, useless. He eased close to a shell hole, said in a low voice, “Anyone . . .?”

He peered over the edge, saw an arm in the water, fingers curled in a loose grip around a rifle. He fought the sickness rising inside him, reached down, pulled at the rifle, the hand giving way, the arm now rising slowly, the man’s body pulled free of the mud below. He tried not to look, but the face turned up in the water, familiar, the name digging into him, Oliver. He turned away, pulled the rifle close to him, held it for a long moment, fought the tears, the panic. He tried to breathe, his throat tight, said in a low voice, “Sorry, old chap. I’ve lost my Enfield. Don’t expect you’ll tell the captain.”

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First Chapter

1. THE REPLACEMENT

The British Lines, Near Ypres,
Western Belgium–Autumn 1915

The darkness was complete, a slow march into a black, wet hell. He was the last man in the short column, one part of a line of twenty men, guided by the low sounds in front of him, soft thumps, boots on the sagging duckboards. There were voices, hard whispers, and, close to him, a hissing growl from the sergeant: "Keep together, you bloody laggards! No stopping!"

No one answered, no protests. Each man held himself tightly inside, the words of the sergeant swept aside by the voices in their own minds, a tight screaming fear, the only response they could have to this march into the black unknown.

They had come as so many had come, crossing the Channel on small steamers, filing through the chaos of the seaports, and after a few days, they had boarded the trains. There was singing, bands playing along the way, the raucous enthusiasm of young recruits. They had stared curiously at the French and Belgian countryside, returning the smiles of the people who greeted them at every stop, and few noticed that as the trains moved farther inland, closer to the vast desolation of the Western Front, the villagers were quieter, the faces more grim. Then the trains stopped, and the men were ordered out onto roads that had seen too much use, repaired and repaired again. They would march now only at night, hidden from the eyes in the air, the aeroplanes that sought out targets for German artillery. If the roads were bad, the small trails and pathways were worse, men stumbling in tight files, moving closer still to the front. The fire in the recruits was dampened now, by the weather, theever-present mud, the soggy lowlands of Flanders. Then came the first sounds, low rumbles, louder as they marched forward. Even in the darkness, both sides threw a nightly artillery barrage at the other, some firing blind, some relying on the memory of the daytime, a brief glimpse of movement on the road, convoys of trucks and horse-drawn carts. Some had the range, knew every foot of the road that stretched out behind the enemy's lines. Throughout the night, the targets might be unseen, but they were there, and every man at every big gun knew that in the darkness, each road, each small path might be hiding great long lines of men, new recruits, the replacements who marched quietly to the front.

His guts were a twisted knot, his arms pulled to his sides, one hand tightly curled around his rifle, his eyes straining at the unseen man in front of him. The soft wood beneath him was bouncing now, sagging low, and his knees buckled, trying to match the rhythm of the footing. There were more soft sounds, splashes, the duckboards spread across some chasm of black water. His mind tried to focus, one foot in front of the other, keeping his boots on the narrow wooden boards. He imagined a great pond, inky and deep, the duckboards some kind of bridge, but the image was not complete, his mind shouting at him, to the front, focus to the front. The man in front of him made a low grunt, water splashing, the man stepping hard, trying to catch himself.

"Bloody hell!"

He stumbled as well, his boots down in the water, the duckboards sagging too low, and he felt the man suddenly beneath him. He fought for his balance, falling now, one hand pushing down hard on the man's back.

"Get off me, you bloody bastard!"

"Shut up, Greenie! On your feet!" It was the sergeant again, and rough hands grabbed his arm, jerking him upright. Beneath him, the other man pulled himself to his feet, both of them gripped hard by the sergeant.

"Stay awake! Keep moving!"

He wanted to whisper something to the man in front, an apology, but the march was on again, the rhythm of his boots blending with the others, soft sounds of water and wood. He felt the wetness in his socks now, the chill of the water adding to the cold hard stone in his chest.

The replacements had been called Greenies from their first moment on the march, green troops, sent forward to rebuild the front-line units, fill the gaping holes in the British regiments. Their training had been rapid, some said far too rapid, a nation scrambling to find new soldiers, more soldiers than anyone had thought they would need. They had been parceled out into small squads by a system none of them understood, led by unfamiliar sergeants, hard, angry men who had done this work before, the men who knew the trails, who could find their way in the dark.

He had joined with many of his friends from the village, a small farming town near the Scottish border. No one had thought the army would be away from home through Christmas, but the newspapers spoke of great battles, a new horror for the world, words and places that seemed foreign and fantastic. In the village, there had been talk of young men who would not come home, strangers mostly, sons of farmers barely known, word of families in mourning. His friends spoke of the adventure of it all, that if any of them missed it, or worse, avoided it, they would be called shirkers, traitors to the king. No matter the accounts in the newspapers, a massive and bloody war that had swallowed the whole of Europe, few who lived in the small village could resist the call, to march in song and parade to join a war the likes of which Britain had not seen since Napoleon.

He tried to adjust his massive backpack, the darkness broken by a small clink of metal, his canteen rattling against the trenching tool that hung down the side of his pack. He had become used to the weight, the clumsy mass just part of the rhythm of the march, bouncing with him on the duckboards.

The ground beneath him was hard now, the wood not moving, no water, and the boots were louder, echoes in the darkness. He heard voices to one side, a group of men, still unseen, and the voices hushed as they passed. He stared through the darkness, wondering, officers perhaps, speaking of plans and tactics. He glanced up, no stars, the night still thick and black. A soft breeze swept past him, a wave of sharp odor. He hunched his shoulders, fought off the smell, but it was all through him, burning his nose, then harder still, sharp and sickening. The man in front of him made a choking sound, others as well, hard coughs, curses.

"Keep moving! That's just the roses, you bloody greenies! Plenty more to come!"

The smell was settling dull in his mind, his brain numbing to it. The breeze seemed to stop, but the smells were still there, all around him, and the man in front of him said, "A horse. A bloody horse!"

He moved past the shape, could hear the hard buzz of flies, was grateful now for the dark. He squinted his eyes, fought through the worst of the smell, stared down for a long while. The march continued, more hard odor, different, unseen decay, and he focused on his footsteps, tried not to think of what lay rotting in the deep mud around him. He could see the faint outline of his boots, the motion steady, constant, realized he could see. He looked ahead of him, could see a shape, the man in front of him outlined
in a dark gray mist. He glanced to the side, more shapes, low hulks, movement. The duckboards began to sag again, more splashes, and he looked down, each step pushing the water out in low ripples. He stared ahead, past the shadow of the man, tried to see beyond, to see where they were going, what the land looked like. The sergeant moved past him now, another hard whisper.

"The first trench line is just ahead. We'll be at the guard post in a minute. Step down easy. We're close. No talking. None! Old Fritz is just out there a ways!"

He could hear something new, a slight quiver in the sergeant's voice. There was none of the profane anger, the mindless screaming at men who had done nothing wrong. He thought of the word, close. How close? Close enough that the sergeant is afraid? He felt his legs turning cold, the hard chill in his chest spreading. There was another low voice, unfamiliar, the words barely reaching him. He could see another man, a gray shape, an officer, speaking in low tones to the sergeant, the man's words finding him through the heavy mist.

"Sergeant Cower . . . you're late . . . daylight . . . heads low."

Behind the two men there was another low, fat hulk. But the soft dawn was spreading, and he could see a shape, a fat round barrel. His heart jumped, hard tightness–of course, a cannon. A big one. The carriage was hidden, buried in the wet muddy ground, the barrel pointing out in the direction of the march. The sergeant was moving toward them again, waving his arm, a downward motion, words coming now, but there was a new sound, a hard whistle, ripping the air above them. The ground in front of him erupted, a mass of earth and men, and he felt himself pushed back, rolling down, his face hitting the mud, his backpack lurching up over his shoulders. There was another great scream, another shell landing a few yards to his left, the ground under him rising up in one great gasp, then settling back down. More dirt fell on him, heavy, a sharp punch into his backpack, nearly rolling him over. He gripped the ground, his hands clawing into the mud, but the sounds kept rolling over him, thunderous bursts, the ground still bouncing beneath him. He tried to breathe, blew a sharp breath out, his face buried in water, tried to raise his head, another great blast, lifting him up, dropping him again hard in the mud. He gasped for air, turned his face to the side, saw only smoke, no men, no great gun. He forced a breath, his throat seared by the heat. He looked for the sergeant, tried to shout, something, not words, fought for air, another scream above him, another great blast behind him, other sounds now, more screams. Men. The dirt settled on him again, and he thought of the sergeant, the man's words, trench line, close. He raised his head up, saw motion, a man running, then another blast, the man disappearing, swept away. He tried to stand, the backpack nearly falling over his head, the weight pulling him over. He tried to run, his legs useless, soft jelly, felt a hand now, a hard grip under his arm.

"Let's go! Move!"

The hand released him, and he reached down for his rifle, saw only water, the voice again.

"Move!"

The man was running out ahead, and he followed, pumped his legs through the churned-up mud, the backpack bouncing wildly. He saw the man drop down, a large round hole, more black water, and he followed, stumbled down, splashed hard, water up to his waist.

"Down!"

He rolled to one side, the backpack sinking beneath him, could sit now, water to his chest, the muddy rim of the hole above him, protection. The shells still came over them, but fell farther back now, the impact jarring him in hard rumbles. He wiped at his eyes, but the mud on his hands made it worse, and he blew hard through his nose, dislodging mud and water. His hands were empty, a new burst of fear, so many days of drill, of screaming sergeants, the routine pounded hard into every man, the punishment. Never lose your rifle. . . .

"My rifle . . . I dropped it! I have to go back. . . ."

The hand clamped hard on his shoulder again, and he saw the face of the sergeant.

"Stay put! There's more rifles to be found. You wounded?"

The question confused him, and he looked down, saw only water, said, "I don't know. I don't know."

"You better check, Greenie. But keep down."

He moved his hands along his sides, was suddenly terrified of what he would find. He felt for his legs, his hands probing slowly beneath the dark water, said, "I don't know. It doesn't hurt."

The sergeant did not laugh, said, "Roll over. Let me have a look. You could bloody well have a hole somewhere. There's no pain, sometimes. Just a piece . . . goes missing."

He turned, the backpack rising up beneath him. Now there was a
short laugh, and the sergeant said, "No, don't appear you been hit. But the quartermaster's gonna be mighty ticked. You let Fritz blow the hell out of your pack."

He slid the pack off, moved it around, saw shreds of cloth, the contents, his clothes, food rations, ripped to small bits of cloth and metal. He stared at the useless mass, pushed it away from him, watched it disappear into the water.

"Say a prayer, Greenie. Probably saved your neck."

He probed again, his hands feeling his chest, stomach, and the sergeant was serious now.

"Naw, Greenie, you're fine. If I hadn't gotten you into this shell hole, you might have joined your mates. Direct hit . . ." The sergeant paused, looked up into the thick gray sky. "Shelling's stopped. For now. You best get moving. Trenches should be ahead, if there's still anything left. Chances are, those boys fared better than you greenies. Take a look. See if anyone's moving."

He slid to one side of the shell hole, adjusted his helmet, eased his head up slowly, and the sergeant said, "Go on, there's nothing to fear now. Fritz can't see you back this far. If they start shelling again, you know where to find me."

He glanced up out of the hole, saw low drifting smoke, mounds of dirt, duckboards scattered, splintered. "I don't see anything." He turned, saw the sergeant staring at him, saw the man shivering, the water around him moving in low ripples.

"You best go on. They're waiting for the greenies up ahead. You'll see the trenches, a hole bigger'n this one, pile of sandbags. Tell the guards you're a replacement for B Company. They'll know where to put you." He paused, took a long breath, spit something out into the black water. "Double-time it, though. Fritz could start his guns again."

"I don't know the way. I'll wait for the others. You have to lead the way!"

He felt a small cold panic rising, stared at the sergeant, who said, "Go! I'll be staying here."

"But the others!"

He was angry now, furious at this man, this bully, the big man with
the temper and the hard hands, quick to punish, quick in his abuse of the replacements. From the beginning of the march, the sergeant had been
on them, cursing them, finding fault with every step. He moved through the water, closer to the sergeant, said, "Damn you! You cannot just order me. . . . I cannot just go alone! We must find the others!"

The sergeant closed his eyes for a moment, said softly, "Direct hit. The first shell . . . there are no others."

"You're mad! Twenty men!"

He scrambled to the edge of the shell hole, eased his head up, searched the dull gray. His heart was pounding again, the cold returning. He climbed up farther, pulled himself out of the hole, crawled slowly away. The smoke was mostly gone, the air now thick with wet mist, a light rain beginning to fall. He paused, listened, tried to hear voices, heard only the faint hiss of the rain. He glanced beyond the shell hole, toward the front lines, the place where the trenches were supposed to be. He raised his head up farther, felt suddenly naked, no rifle, nothing in his hands, no heavy mass on his back. He felt light, like an animal, stood up slowly, bent low, began to move back, followed the shattered trail of the duckboards. He could see the muddy ground broken into round patches of water, shell holes in every direction. He crouched low, saw a rifle, thought, mine . . . but the butt was missing, useless. He eased close to a shell hole, said in a low voice, "Anyone . . . ?"

He peered over the edge, saw an arm in the water, fingers curled in a loose grip around a rifle. He fought the sickness rising inside him, reached down, pulled at the rifle, the hand giving way, the arm now rising slowly, the man's body pulled free of the mud below. He tried not to look, but the face turned up in the water, familiar, the name digging into him, Oliver. He turned away, pulled the rifle close to him, held it for a long moment, fought the tears, the panic. He tried to breathe, his throat tight, said in a low voice, "Sorry, old chap. I've lost my Enfield. Don't expect you'll tell the captain."
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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 70 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2005

    Shaara hits the mark with to the last man.....

    I really enjoyed Jeff Shaara's latest effort 'To The Last Man',the book continues in the pattern of historically accurate fiction that he has established with his previous five novels.I found his very humanizing approach to such historical figures as Manfred von Richtofen very good. Seeing the Red Baron as a man rather than a walking symbol was very refreshing. I would recommend this book to any other Shaara fan or someone who appreciates a writer who does their historical homework.As a Civil War medical reenactor/livng historian,I know how difficult such research is and admire Jeff for taking the time to do it right. I eagerly await his next book.I'm sure his father would be proud.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2005

    Another Must Read by Jeff Shaara

    Jeff Shaara has done it again. He has written another masterpiece, this time on the often forgotten war that set the future of the Twentieth century and beyond. Shaara deviates slightly from his usual style in that, this book is essentially two books in one. It can be divided into three parts. The first 1/3 of the book deals almost exclusively with the air war focusing mainly on the heroics the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen and the French born American ace, Raoul Lufberry. In the middle 1/3 of the book, Shaara introduces Gen. Pershing and a young marine private named Roscoe Templer, which begins the second book as the first concludes with the deaths of Richthofen and Lufberry. The final 1/3 of the book focuses exclusively on the exploits and perils of the ground war. When it comes to the descriptive narrative of the horrors of war, I have always felt Stephen Crane's Red Badge of Courage set the standard. Shaara has surpassed that standard and has broken new ground with all of his books, this one included. Anyone who has ever served in the military will appreciate the detail of Shaara's narrative of the horrors that both the flying aces and the doughboys endured in World War I. As with all of Shaara's books, it is really a shame to call this a historical fiction as it is meticulously researched and historically accurate to the letter. Shaara captivates the reader by making history read like the best of literature. As with all of Shaara's books, this one is a must for the history classroom. Of course, it will probably never see the light of day in public schools, but home-schoolers should certainly utilize Shaara's gift for putting accurate military history in the form of intriguing and captivating resources for expanding ones knowledge of the events. Whether you are a novice or a World War I aficionado, you will love this book. If you have never read Shaara, this one will captivate you and have you soon reading his other fine works. You don't want to miss this book. Add it to your library now. You won't regret it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2004

    Outstanding but not superior (like A Glorious Cause)

    As an avid Shaara reader, I couldn't wait for this book to come into press. To the Last is a great book to be sure, a quick read despite the length. Americans tend to overlook WWI because of our late entry into the war, so Shaara's genius is to find characters that are innately appealing to every reader. After reading the book, I went on the web to read about Lufberry and the Red Baron. Such fascinating stuff and Shaara brings it all to life. To the Last is outstanding but it falls short of the glorious Glorious Cause.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2004

    BILLY MITCHELL: age?

    On page 309 of novel, TO THE LAST MAN, the author states the age of Colonel Billy Mitchell as being 69. THE controversial Air-Power advocate Mitchell was 39 years old in 1917. Is the author talking about a different Mitchell, or is this an error? Otherwise, a great book. Shaara brings humanity to history.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 5, 2014

    Highly Recommend

    A very good read .

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  • Posted September 5, 2014

    Highly recommended - must read

    Riveting. Learned more about WW1 than I learned in school. The insight from the different military perspectives was eye-opening.
    Couldn't put it down!

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  • Posted December 23, 2013

    Jeff Shaara does another wonderful job on an often overlooked pe

    Jeff Shaara does another wonderful job on an often overlooked period of history.  With the anniversary of World War 1 coming up this is a must read for anyone interested in the topic.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2013

    SHara

    Goof

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Love it, love it, love it!

    See above!

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2008

    Typical Sharra!

    Written beautifully as all Jeff Sharra's books are. Kept me reading instead of working!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2007

    Excellent

    A very interesting and well done book, especially for one who likes World War I.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2006

    very disappointing

    jeff spent too much time on the pilots in the begining of the book. Very boring and drawn out. I read all of his previous books and this one and 'Gone 4 Soldiers' is not good. I loved 'Rise to Rebellion' and 'Gods & Generals' but I probably won't read the WW II books because this book simply sucked

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2005

    The Age of Billy Mitchell

    I enjoy Mr Shaara's books and his style of placing facts with fiction, however I question the age of Billy Mitchell in his last book, 'to The Last Man'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2004

    Another Spectacular Shaara Novel

    Jeff Shaara has once again brought to life the heroism and tragedy of the men who fought together to build and protect our nation and the world. His characterizations are terrific and his storytelling is simply stunning. He allows the reader to understand and become involved with the characters so much that pain is felt when one dies or exileration when one of them succeeds at someting. I found myself in tune with everyone in this book, from the Red Baron, to the French Commanders, to U.S. General Pershing, and I discovered a new respect for them and their actions. I would highly recomment this and any other shaara books to anyone who loves to read, not just history but good and decent people doing their best in the face of what was asked of them.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2004

    Good review of American entry into The Great War-How autocratic European powers caused the turmoil that cost 5000 military deaths per day during the period of the war.

    Good, informative book about a war of attrition that is generally thought about only on November 11, annually.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 24, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 70 Customer Reviews

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